Taxation and representation
by Marc J. Rosenstein
Discuss on Our BlogSo the chiefs of the clans of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, all whose spirit had been roused by God, got ready to go up to build the House of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. All their neighbors supported them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with livestock, and with precious objects… The sum of the entire community [who returned from Babylonian exile] was 42,360…
-Ezra 1:5-6, and 2:64
There was a time when mainstream Zionism believed that the Diaspora was destined to disappear – whoever didn't move to the Jewish state would eventually succumb either to Holocausts or assimilation. While this view still has adherents, I think there is now general acceptance of the future of the Diaspora. And there was a time when Diaspora Zionists – and Diaspora Jews in general – saw their role as to support Israel in its struggle to exist, by sending money, by visiting, by volunteering, by speaking out in advocacy of Israel's positions. While this perception still holds to a large extent, I think it is showing signs of wear.
I just returned from a trip to North America, where I had the opportunity to meet with Reform Jews in several different communities. From what I heard, I got the impression that the one-dimensionality of the traditional relationship to Israel has become increasingly problematic. On the one hand, Israel is all of ours, and so we all have an obligation to support it, strengthen it, help it, to be part of its struggle. On the other hand, Diaspora Jews' are not really invited to express opinions regarding Israel's policies, internal and external, for two reasons: a) our age-old commitment to Jewish unity (?) inhibits us from airing dirty laundry in public (we have to maintain a united front against our enemies – meaning the whole world); and b) Diaspora Jews will not "pay the price" for Israel's decisions (e.g., their children don't serve in the Israeli army), so who are they to give advice? Thus, despite efforts at creating more involvement and symmetry (like Partnership 2000), the message continues to be, explicitly or implicitly, that Diaspora Jews are supposed provide political and material support, but are not supposed to criticize or question. It seems to me that this mentality can't end well – and indeed, it may be a cause for a certain frustration to the point of disengagement by many Diaspora Jews. "If Israel doesn't care what we think – or doesn't think we are smart enough to understand complexity – why do we have to make sacrifices and take risks for Israel?" Unfortunately, this argument can degenerate into its opposite: that "he who pays the piper calls the tune," and our support earns us the right to dictate to Israel what it should do, as our representative in the world.
As usual, it seems to me that the right answer is hard to pin down, but it is somewhere in the middle. Diaspora Jews are neither masters nor flunkies. If Israel does indeed, willy-nilly, represent them, they have a stake and they ought to have a say – but often it's tricky to know what to say and how to say it. Both sides need to exercise humility and self-criticism; both need to understand the complicated sets of forces operating on the other, so that the conversation between them becomes not a power struggle but a partnership. In order for that to happen, each side must gain a much deeper and more nuanced knowledge of the reality of the other – but alas, manipulating is a lot easier than educating (both for the manipulator and the manipulated), and often provides temptingly effective short-term results; in the long term, it has unintended costs of alienation and disengagement – and I fear we have now come to pay-back time.